The Body Electronic: eBook Developed for Anatomy Study

Gross anatomy students at the University of Utah medical school have a leg up on those taking similar courses around the country, thanks to one professor's use of new content delivery technology that is making it easier for students to review important lecture materials outside the classroom.

At Utah, the Adobe System's Inc. Acrobat eBook Reader is solving a teaching and learning problem. Kurt Albertine, professor of pediatrics, medicine, neurobiology, and anatomy, says, "We show a lot of important, original images—more than 300 radiographs, photographs, and drawings—on the screen in the front of the room during lecture. But all our students have is a set of black and white notes with limited illustrations. They don't have copies of the images we put up on the screen. Students can annotate the printed notes, but they have no easy way to copy the presentation."

Taking advantage of the available eBook Reader software, Albertine, Trish G'ede, director of Utah's Electronic Medical Education Resource Group, and her staff are taking all of that original content and building a course eBook. They're adding interactivity as well, including captions for figures that will appear as mouse rollovers. Labels can also be turned off to facilitate self-assessment.

The eBook Reader offers users the opportunity to view and interact with visually accurate representations of graphics-intensive content. Much like a PDF file, an eBook file presents a vivid replica of a document. However, eBook technology g'es beyond that. PDFs provide a fixed image, but eBook technology allows content providers to build in audio, video, and interactive features. When students open a document using eBook Reader, they have access to the formatted pages and any bells and whistles built in. Students can highlight, annotate text, search text, access the Web, and open an interactive dictionary. Content providers can build in audio cues such as voice pronunciations of difficult terms. The documents appear in all their colorful, rich font glory on two-page spreads.

The eBook Reader is a relatively new technology. Currently, about a dozen academic institutions, including Utah, are participating in a test run of the technology. At the same time, some publishers are using Adobe's Content Server to secure and distribute PDF-based eBooks. The Adobe solution lets content providers encrypt the files to sell as eBooks. The encryption protects their digital rights and facilitates safe distribution of the material.

Albertine, who in addition to practicing and teaching medicine is an experienced academic author, is quick to point out the pedagogical advantages of the eBook Reader technology. "We can augment the text with descriptions, references, and other features. This is a quantum leap forward in information delivery. Suddenly we can create a tool that takes students at will from the big picture to finer details."

Says G'ede, "This is an easy tool for instructors to use. If they can make a PDF file, they can deliver eBook content to their students." Once the base content is available as an eBook, instructors can work with information technology staff to add levels of interactivity, audio clips, and video features.

The anatomy material went live in December. G'ede and Albertine are in the midst of a student survey to gather reaction
to the material. So far, reaction has been positive. Students have commented on the convenience of having access to the lecture slides outside of class. As one student put it, it has the potential to be a "one-stop shop." Notes the student, if it includes useful features and functionality, "the eBook presentations could actually be all a student would have to study to do well." They plan to have the entire set of course materials in eBook format by the fall semester of 2002.

For more information, contact Trish G'ede at pg'ede@hsc.utah.edu.

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